CineLab • Seminar

The Film-Phil Lisbon Seminars: Lucy Bolton

The desecration of the beautiful star: death and the female biopic

The next Film-Phil Lisbon Seminar (2023-2024) will be led by Lucy Bolton (Queen Mary University of London, United Kingdom) who will talk about “The desecration of the beautiful star: death and the female biopic”. The session is hybrid and will be held on April 24 at 3 PM (Lisbon time), at Colégio Almada Negreiros (room SE1) and online, via Zoom. To receive information about joining the meeting online, it is mandatory to register in advance here.


Edgar Allen Poe wrote that, “The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world” (1846). It is a notion that is borne out by the many biopics that focus on Marilyn Monroe, who died at the age of 36 in circumstances that provoke conspiracy theories to this day. It is also the case that there is a perennial fascination with the ageing of stars and their attempts, successful or otherwise, to disguise ageing appearances. Marlene Dietrich refused to allow Maximillian Schell to film her at all for his biographical film about her, confining him to audio recordings and thereby preserving her famed reclusiveness.

In this paper, I will argue that the death of a beautiful film star is indeed a draw for filmmakers, but it is their suffering and decline that is the preferred attraction. From Frances to Blonde, Joan of Arc to Seberg, the desire to supposedly reveal the true suffering behind the feminine façade drives most star biopics about women. The result of this tendency is to skew phenomenological encounters with the star character towards tragedy and trauma, rather than success, celebration, or simply daily life. Using the performance phenomenology of Sobchack, and the celebrity studies of Jermyn & Homes, I will propose a framework for understanding the salacious appeal of women’s death and destruction in the star biopic.


Lucy Bolton is Professor of Film Philosophy at Queen Mary University of London, where she teaches and researches film and philosophy and film stardom. She has published widely in these fields and is currently working on a monograph titled Philosophies of Film Stardom: Ethics, Aesthetics, Phenomenologies for Edinburgh University Press. She is co-editor of Lasting Screen Stars: Images that Fade and Personas that Endure, author of Contemporary Cinema and the Philosophy of Iris Murdoch, and of Film and Female Consciousness: Irigaray, Cinema, and Thinking Women. She co-edits the book series Visionaries: the Work of Women Filmmakers, with EUP.

Funded by the European Union (ERC, FILM AND DEATH, 101088956). Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Research Council Executive Agency. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.